“The First of the Unplucked Gems” – Notes on Nationhood & Music, Canada & The Hip, Part One

Parkdale Park is a park – a small public park – in the west end of the city of Ottawa.

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Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, Mono, ON

 

There is some thing – some dumb, stubborn thing – in that ungainly sentence that, to me, suggests, solicits the question of what it means to be Canadian, of how we continuously partake in and recreate an always-elusive form of national disposition. I mean, yes, there is in it the interesting, complex notion of public space and, by extension, of public institutions, that, a trump card in what often turns out to be a wrong game of chance, always seems to linger in our individual, national psyches, answering the question no one asked. “Free healthcare!” Yes, there is that.

But that is not – not only, not exactly – what I’m talking about.

Both perfectly transparent and aloofly opaque, “Parkdale Park is a park” seems to foolishly stumble into something else, something that echoes, replicates the form of an answer to the question, “What is, what makes a Canadian?”

*

There was, ten, fifteen years ago an insidious ad for an insipid beer Canadians don’t – didn’t, haven’t, hadn’t, will not have, will not have had – mind(ed) drinking, an ad that was a part of a campaign constructed around a slogan – “I am Canadian” – retired soon after Canada’s Molson Brewery merged with the USA-owned Coors Brewing Company. At the centre of the ad, and the screen, was “Canadian Joe,” white and male and handsome in a hetero kind of way, wearing jeans, a tee- and a plaid-shirt in front of a large screen, behind a microphone with a steel mesh grille. Reticently at first, then with more and more confidence until he crescendoed with embarrassingly un-Canadian bravado, he listed a number of things he was not, and a few things he was, most of which boiled down to the simple notion that Joe, bless his fiery, jean-clad heart, had not been born beneath the forty-ninth parallel north.

It’s been too long for me to care and the ad is too silly to waste time and space on subjecting it to the kind of critique it so obviously invites. Let me simply note that even then – when we were definitely younger and certainly more ignorant and perhaps, hopefully, more blinkered – there was something about it we couldn’t fully embrace, something we felt was lacking. When it made us laugh, we laughed embarrassingly; when we nodded in agreement, we did so half-heartedly; and we had to work – some harder than others – to cover its elisions, to persuade ourselves and each other that the reason we got it was because we were from here, because we lived here, now.

Yes, yes, fine: Joe was – remains – Canadian. But we sure as fuck were not, are not Joe.

And yet! – Yet there was, despite Molson’s and Bensimon Byrne’s best efforts, some thing – some dumb, stubborn truth – that Joe spoke. Not with his words or his image, mind you – those were, are utter, abominable moosedung. We see Joe and we hear his words and, even now, so many years later, discounting those words, wishing sincerely he’d just—shut—up, we know, we get it: yes, Joe, you ignorant piece of shit, you are Canadian. Joe is Canadian, just like Parkdale Park – is a park.

(To be continued.)

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